Jonathan Franzen’s 10 ‘Rules’ For Writing – FIXED

6 minute read
Author: Jo

Who could have predicted that Jonathan Franzen’s ’10 Rules for Writing’, published recently on LitHub, would have attracted such immediate trolling and criticism? Who on earth could have known his list of ‘rules’ would comprise a selection of somewhat oblique, unnecessarily restrictive, and at times condescending laws on how to be a literary success?

Not us. Nope. Couldn’t have seen that one coming at all.

Caaause here’s the thing, Franzipan. All writing rules are bullshit. There’s no right way or wrong way to write a book, or a story, or a poem. Your brain is not like other brains. Your words are your own. What works for you will be fictional death to another writer. Writing advice shouldn’t be full of can’ts and don’ts. Telling people what to do with riddlesome negativity really doesn’t inspire them to be creative – to try, to fail, to try again, to get better, to find their own voice and develop their own methods.

And so, we took a break in an extended eye-rolling session to fix some of those ‘rules’ for ya. You’re franzing welcome.

Gif of Gina from Brooklyn Nine Nine pausing while sipping coffee to do an epic eye roll.

#1: The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

Slow blink. Lol, have you ever read one of your own books, mate?

#2: Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

Errrrr what? ALL fiction is worth writing, for whatever reason you want to write it. That’s. How. You. Learn. Goddamnit, write whatever the fuck you want with no reservations. Fiction does not have to be soul-shaking and revelatory and cathartic to have meaning and purpose. For the love of shiny things, write that Buffy fanfic. Write that fluffy romantic romp. Write that trope-filled predictable plot with a self-inserted character. Write all the things. And find your own way.

#3: Never use the word then as a conjunction—we have and for this purpose. Substituting then is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many ands on the page.

Ughhhhhhhh enough with the grammar dos and don’ts, people. It’s so fucking boring. We get it: adverbs are terrible. we should always use ‘said’ as a dialogue tag, get rid of the word ‘that’… Just throw the whole thing into a Hemingway emulator and be done with it. If you spend all your time focusing on that kind of pedantic bollocks you’ll never actually write a thing. So read our manifesto on ‘bad’ language instead, and tell Rule #3 to go fuck itself.

#4: Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.

WRITE IN WHATEVER PERSON YOU WANT TO. Wait, that came out weird. WRITE IN WHATEVER PERSPECTIVE YOU WANT TO AND BE DAMNED TO HELL IF ANYONE TELLS YOU OTHERWISE. That ‘distinctive’ and ‘irresistible’ first person voice you’re talking about? That probably won’t even emerge until the gazillionth draft of your story. At first, it’ll just be “oh hai I’m a character doing shit haha I have no idea what I’m doing” but that’s the thing about developing narrative voice – it takes time – and if you’re too afraid to give it a go, then you might just miss out on an amazing perspective.

#5: When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

Franzen does not like the internet (or many things). This is canon. And also a pile of steaming twaddle. Seriously? Does the fact that anyone can look up the same things you looked up to write your novel make them less interesting? Does the fact that you can quite literally look up anything and everything using your magical pocket rectangle mean that the effort you put into crafting a story around that information is all for nothing? What are you really saying here? That knowledge should be limited to some mysterious literary, academic elite, and access should be restricted? Franz. Buddy. Your privilege is showing…

Research widely. VOLUMINOUSLY. Make use of all those glorious universally accessible resources. Share your knowledge with everyone. And recognise the value in free speech, free passage of information, and free thought.

#6: The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than The Metamorphosis.

I mean, yah, but we don’t all have to turn into giant insects to create a metaphor. Sometimes the mundane is just as interesting.

Woman in a cowboy hat and police uniform grimacing and saying "ugh, it's a metaphor"

#7: You see more sitting still than chasing after.

Ok, we’ll give you this one. We fully believe in the power of procrastination and letting ideas percolate and not forcing the issue when you’re not in a writing mood. But sometimes you do have to push yourself. Sometimes you do need to force the habit, get your bum in the chair and at least have a go – even if you end up staring at a blank screen for twenty minutes. It’s a beautiful balance, y’all.

#8: It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Oh just fuck yourself, dude. You’re criticising 99.9% of working writers right now (and some of us aren’t ‘hims’).

Let us rephrase that:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an The Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction can sometimes be distracting to writers.

Honey, you think the internet is detrimental to writing? Try having a couple of ankle-biters, or studying while working full time, or holding down three jobs, or living with a chronic illness, or whatever other shit writers face every day. Yes, the internet can be a sinkhole of distraction, but it has no effect on the quality of writing. That’s just pure snobbery. Unless you have a Waldenesque cabin in the woods and unlimited funds and time, you’re stuck in the real fucking world with the rest of us, and you’ll just have to get on with it.

#9: Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

Self-righteous writers are seldom very good at giving writing advice.

#10: You have to love before you can be relentless.

Okay. This one broke us. We’re done. We have nothing more. Franzen, you’ve won. This one is ripped straight from an inspirational fucking poster, and everyone knows that shit’s just a collection of nonsensical words in a saccharine font.

Image of two hands making a heart shape with a blurry sunset in the background. Text says: You have to love before you can be relentless. (Also, never use interesting verbs.) Jonathan Franzen

Wow, that last one actually makes us feel kinda fuzzy without quite understanding what it’s on about. Maybe he’s not full of shit after all.

Anywho, to sum up, tl;dr: writing rules are bullshit, don’t let Jonathan Franzen (or anyone) tell you what to do, write what the fuck you want, and plunder the depths of the internet at will. And anyone espousing writing advice should offer a guide, not a straightjacket. So go forth, give no fucks, write stuff. Amen.

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